What will America look like at mid-century?  US 2050, an initiative of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation and the Ford Foundation, will examine and analyze the multiple demographic, socioeconomic, and fiscal trends that will shape the nation in the decades ahead. Engaging leading scholars in the areas of demographics, poverty studies, labor economics, macroeconomics, political science, and sociology, US 2050 will create a comprehensive view of our economic and fiscal future – and the implications for the social and financial well-being of Americans.

Project Description

In the coming decades, a transformational wave of foreseeable demographic changes will create a new American tapestry. Social, economic, and technological changes will reshape the domestic and global economy, and the nation’s fiscal condition will face increasing challenges resulting from a range of factors, including an aging society and a structural mismatch between spending and revenues. These interconnected trends will have significant, but not yet fully understood, implications for the social and financial well-being of Americans. US 2050 will explore these issues and their link to the country’s fiscal and economic health. 

The project’s goal is to foster a clearer vision of America’s future and spur a sense of urgency to address pressing policy concerns, thereby laying the groundwork for better outcomes. In 2050, today’s newborn will be entering her prime working years, and one out of every four of today’s 65-year olds will still be living. All of us have a stake in the trends that will unfold in coming decades.

The project will engage leading scholars and provide grants to support research. The insights and learnings gained from the new work will be shared at gatherings that will bring together authors of papers, academic and substantive experts, and, ultimately, policy leaders.

A distinguished Advisory Committee is guiding the project, bringing valuable expertise across the key research disciplines. The Committee is coordinated by the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution, and will assist with the framing of research questions, selection of successful proposals and the review of submitted papers. 

Research Topics and Questions

Scholars from multiple disciplines responded the project’s two call for papers. (The deadline for submitting proposals has now passed. Authors of successful proposals will be notified May 1.) In its broadest form, our main question is this:

How do the changing demographics of America – including aging, race, ethnicity, and other factors – affect the future fiscal and economic health of the nation, and what are the best policies to prepare for and respond to the challenges and opportunities that this future presents?

Papers will go beneath the national median and aggregate trends to examine differences and similarities of sub-groups in the population and examine how our changing demographics intersect with our changing economy.

The following list includes many broad questions in which we are interested. This list is not meant to be comprehensive, and is intended to illustrate the breadth of our interest.

I. Political Institutions

Political scientists are especially encouraged to submit proposals for US 2050. A key question for the project is the state of American political institutions and how they may change. The most important trends of the last few decades — increasing competition for majority control of Congress, the ideological polarization of the parties, the weakening of congressional capacity, for example — challenge our leaders to address any pressing policy concerns.

  • How might changes in the relationship between race and class influence attitudes towards specific policies? Will public attitudes towards redistributive/universal policies be influenced by attitudes towards race, and how might these change as the racial composition of society changes?
  • Our political leadership will also change. What do political developments, such as opposition to gerrymandering; growth of independent voters and disaffection with the Republican and Democratic parties; and increasing population diversity (particularly on the coasts and in urban areas) imply for future policy making as the older generation passes the reins to younger political leaders?
  • How will demographic and economic changes affect Congress’ ability to legislate the types of tradeoffs inevitably required? What impact will population changes have on lawmakers’ ability to budget for the longer term? What institutional or electoral remedies might help elected officials address long-term challenges?

II. Individual and Family Wealth

Wealth or lack of it affects families’ ability to provide resources and educational opportunities for their children. This has implications for children’s trajectory as adults, as well as for parents’ retirement security. To deepen our understanding of factors that affect wealth building in different communities, we are interested in several questions: What barriers prevent individuals and families from saving for retirement, acquiring assets, and investing in their children? How do these factors affect various population groups differently and affect the composition of their retirement saving? Potential topics of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Determinants of wealth holdings, including factors that might inhibit wealth building by historically disadvantaged groups;
  • The ways in which the changing composition of the population may affect economic prospects for different groups and, thus, the underlying factors determining wealth acquisition;
  • Factors that will influence whether recent trends in wealth and inequality within and across ethnic groups will persist or change over the next few decades

III. The Response of Social Welfare and Social Insurance Systems to Changing Labor Markets

The labor market and the structure of the American family both have changed significantly over the past 30 years with implications for social welfare and social insurance programs. (For example, an increasing share of SNAP recipients work, and the earned income tax credit has replaced TANF as the largest cash transfer program for low-income Americans.) Growing pressures within the federal budget could increase pressure on social safety net and social insurance programs. At the same time, an increasing share of program participants could: (1) qualify for benefits with work; (2) work longer over the lifecycle; (3) face uncertainty and volatility in work arrangements; and (4) support increasingly complex family arrangements — single parents, multiple partner fertility, etc. With that in mind, we are interested in papers on the following and related topics.

  • With the changing nature of work, the changing structure of American families, and demographic transitions, what are the implications for social safety net and social insurance programs? What adjustments are needed to better respond to the needs of workers and employers alike, including efforts to promote job-readiness and employability in an increasingly work-based social safety net and to reinforce labor attachment?
  • How will these societal shifts impact the financial outlook for government transfer programs and the country overall?

IV. Global Perspectives on Jobs and Work and the Future Supply of Immigrants to the US

Many of the demographic, socioeconomic and fiscal trends that will transform the US in the decades ahead are global. Aging is a global phenomenon. Educational attainment has surged around the world. Hundreds of millions of people are joining the global middle class – and will have education and skills that increasingly put them in competition US workers. Thus, exploration of key dimensions of the evolving global context is essential for understanding the future wellbeing of Americans.

In particular, we invite proposals that look at global factors likely to affect the supply of immigrants to the US and to influence the types of jobs and the distribution of wages in the US.

Questions of interest include, but are not limited to:

  • What global factors are likely to affect the supply of immigrants to the US and to influence the types of jobs and the distribution of wages in the US?
  • How will the evolution of large economies such as China, India and Brazil and Africa’s emerging economies affect US workers and families between now and 2050? What trends will influence demand vs supply of global labor?

Will the composition of potential immigrants to the United States with respect to country of origin, skill level, employing industry, and the like change significantly, and how will the US labor market and economic growth rate be affected? Will competing trends put upward or downward pressure on US wages?


V. Demographics

What is behind recent trends for men and women among various segments of the population and what factors may shape labor force participation in the future? What role does the high rate of incarceration of African America and Latino young men play? How do attitudes toward the changing composition of jobs (e.g., more health-related jobs, fewer manufacturing jobs; more contingent jobs, fewer permanent jobs) differentially affect men and women, and how do attitudes vary by race and ethnicity?

Are women and minorities over-represented in non-traditional jobs (e.g., temp, contingent work, gig economy)? If so, why, what are the implications for the future and what might be the policy response?

What does the increasing use of automation and other advanced technologies imply for the future number and types of jobs, as well as the education level and skill sets needed of workers to fill those jobs? What do these types of changes across sectors and occupations imply for workers’ incomes, the distribution of national income, and the fiscal outlook?

How do gig economy jobs interact with the social safety net and what are resulting implications for future fiscal policy?

How does productivity vary by age? Does this vary by sub-group? By generation? How could these differences affect the future economy?

What policies might be most helpful in boosting labor force participation? How should policies account for differences in ability to continue working across different jobs and industries? What would be the impact of higher labor force participation on economic growth?

How and why do actual and optimal patterns of retirement saving and retirement vary among segments of the population? How do these patterns affect the long-term fiscal outlook? How do public policies affect retirement decisions and do they affect different groups differently?


VI. Education

To what extent do different racial, ethnic, or gender groups with the same level of education have similar or difference returns to that education? How do industry of employment or career paths affect these?

How sensitive are productivity assumptions to the quality of education? Would metrics other than educational attainment provide better insight into labor quality?

What do we know about how the quality of education differs across groups? Are disparities adequately measured? What about returns to job training? If the employer demand for “social skills” is rising, what are the implications of that? Do these differences persist when controlling for, say, choices of major?

How much of the differences between educational benefits are driven by the particular skills acquired when receiving a degree?


VII. Health Status

What is the impact of the opioid epidemic and other substance abuse on current and future health, productivity, and public healthcare spending?

What do we know about the impact of stress on the health and productivity of adults and their offspring?

How does poverty affect childhood development and subsequent labor quality? What rates of return might be earned on investments in environmental improvements (reducing lead, other pollutants) or on expanding access to healthcare? What is the relative return of investing public resources in the young vs. the old, especially compared to current practice?


VIII. Economic Outcomes

What role do race, ethnicity, family composition, culture, and other factors play in the propensity of Americans to move from one place to another to improve their economic prospects? Does geographic sorting and reluctance to move become a self-perpetuating driver of inequality, and how much do other disparities flow from that?

In what ways does the place in which a child grows up matter to outcomes, and does it matter differently to children of different races and ethnicities?

States vary widely in their public sector philosophies, which is reflected in their approach to and spending on education: how does that affect children of different racial/ethnic groups? Demographic change is happening in different regions at different speeds, and the industrial structure of regions vary: Does that matter?

To what extend do public policies encourage or discourage geographical mobility?


IX. Family Structure

Does marriage matter? Does marriage matter to labor force participation rates of young men? Are patterns of child and elder caregiving different among different ethnic and racial groups and, if so, so what? How much do changes in household composition and marriage patterns (as opposed to other characteristics) drive observed inequality?

What are the determinants of fertility, how do fertility rates different among segments of the population, and what are the implications? The role of religion and religious institutions?


X. Wealth

What is happening to savings and wealth by race and ethnicity over time?

How do gaps in wealth affect labor force attachment, wages, mobility?

How are different age groups preparing for retirement and how does retirement readiness vary by race, ethnicity, and marital status? What roles do social supports (e.g., Social Security) play in retirement readiness for different groups?

Does saving behavior differ across groups, and if so, as the population changes, what are the implications for retirement adequacy and/or national saving? Are there incentives or policy changes that would alter observed differences?

How does the growing burden of student debt affect saving during the working lives, both among those who finish college and those who do not? How does student debt burden affect retirement adequacy?


XI. Population Diversity

Does an aging society require higher taxes, public transfers or debt? Could such redistributions of resources within and across generations be accomplished in ways that are “fair” to future generations, especially given the changes in demographics??

Is there the potential for more or less fiscal space when demographic changes are taken into account?

What is likely to happen to differences in life expectancy across groups over time, and what are the implications of health status and life expectancy disparities for Medicare and Social Security reform? What do differences in life expectancy suggest for changes to eligibility ages for retirement and health programs?

What are the political implications of a country in which older whites are a minority? What is likely to happen to support for entitlements, for taxes? What are the implications of the changing demographics for political polarization?


Advisory Committee


Charles Blahous

J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Chair and Senior Research Strategist, Mercatus Center and Visiting Fellow, Hoover Institution


Heather Boushey

Executive Director and Chief Economist, Washington Center on Equitable Growth


Camille Busette

Director, Race, Prosperity and Inclusion Initiative, Senior Fellow- Economic Studies, Governance Studies, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution


Susan Collins

Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan


Robert Doar

Resident Fellow and Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies, American Enterprise Institute


Maria Fitzpatrick

Associate Professor, Department of Policy and Management, Cornell University and Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research


Andra Gillespie

Associate Professor, Political Science, Emory University


Bradley Hardy

Associate Professor of Public Administration and Policy, American University and Non-resident Senior Fellow in Economic Studies, Brookings Institution

Doug Holtz-

Doug Holtz Eakin

President, American Action Forum

Mark Hugo

Mark Hugo Lopez

Director, Global Migration and Demography Research, Pew Research Center


Ronald Mincy

Maurice V. Russell Professor of Social Policy and Social Work Practice, Columbia University


Alicia Munnell

Director, Center for Retirement Research and Peter F. Drucker Professor of Management Sciences, Boston College


Molly Reynolds

Fellow, Governance Studies, Brookings Institution


Louise Sheiner

Robert S. Kerr Senior Fellow, Economic Studies and Policy Director, Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy, Brookings Institution


Margaret Simms

Director, Low-Income Working Families Initiative and Institute Fellow, Urban Institute


Karl Smith

Director, Economic Research, Niskanen Center


Michael Strain

Director, Economic Policy Studies and John G. Searle Scholar, American Enterprise Institute


David Wessel

Director, Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy and Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings Institution


May 1, 2018 Authors of selected proposals under the second call for papers notified
June 28-29, 2018 Invitation-only research conference for authors, leading experts and Advisory Committee members to discuss draft papers
Fall 2018 Invitation-only research conference for authors, leading experts and Advisory Committee members to discuss draft papers
October 2018 Final papers to be submitted
Early 2019 Public conference and discussion of papers


What type of papers are anticipated?
  • Evidence-based papers between 20-40 pages in length, though shorter or longer papers will be considered if topics and circumstances warrant
  • Cross-disciplinary approaches are expected
  • Papers will go beyond national medians and aggregate trends to examine differences and similarities of sub-groups in the population

What will happen to the final papers once submitted?
  • Final papers will be shared at a conference, which will be held in early 2019 and may be disseminated by the Foundations
  • Papers may be published in a conference volume (with authors’ permission)

What is the potential grant size and what will it cover?
  • Awards will reflect the scope of work, and generally range from $25,000 to $50,000 (inclusive of any university overhead charges)
  • Researcher salary and benefits
  • Research assistance
  • Researcher salary and benefits
  • Reimbursements for economy-class travel to/from project meetings and conferences and for local expenses
  • The Peterson Foundation’s policy limits indirect costs to no more than 15% of direct program costs.

What is the selection process and criteria?
  • The Advisory Committee will review applications and make funding recommendation to the Foundation
  • Authors of selected proposals under the second call for papers notified by May 1, 2019

If my proposal is selected, what should I expect?
  • Successful proposals will receive grants from the Peterson Foundation. Grantees will receive grant agreements outlining deliverables, a payment schedule and other grant conditions.

How do I get answers to my questions about the project or the status of my application?
  • Questions regarding the project, eligibility and the application may be addressed to: us2050@pgpf.org

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